A second British movie-oriented website owner has been threatened with legal action by US movie studios for allegedly offering their films as BitTorrent downloads without their permission.
Kevin Reid, who runs bds-palace.co.uk, was last week given notice that Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. intend to name him in a lawsuit - filed last December with the US District Court of New Jersey - which claims "significant" numbers of pirate movies were made available through his site.
The studios' representative, Matthew J Oppenheim (see Bootnote, below), a partner with Washington DC law firm Jenner & Block, informed Reid by letter that the studios will formally name the Briton in the suit unless he avails himself of "an opportunity to settle the claims".
Reid's situation matches that of Alexander Hanff, the owner of UK site DVDR-core, who was also on the receiving end of threatening missives from the US movie industry last week, as we exclusively revealed.
Both Reid and Hanff deny endorsing and facilitating the sharing of unauthorised copies of movies through their sites, David Harris, a lawyer specialising in intellectual property and information technology issues at UKITLaw.com, and who is representing both Reid and Hanff, told The Register today. The two didn't host illegal content, he said, and when notified that users were posting links to unlawful BitTorrent downloads, they acted promptly to remove those links. BitTorrent has lawful uses, and both sites contained links to legitimate BitTorrent-hosted content.
Hollywood's complaints are entirely without foundation, Harris said.
No wonder, then, that neither Reid nor Hanff are planning to accept Hollywood's offer of a settlement, so a fight seems likely. The studios' lawyers will almost certainly add the website owners' names to the respective lawsuits, and a US judge may yet rule Hollywood has a case which Reid and Hanff must answer.
The difficult part will be getting them to do so. Reid and Hanff's sites may be hosted on the servers of US-based ISPs, but both, being resident in the UK, are well beyond the limits of the US court's jurisdiction. A scenario in which men in black suits and sunglasses arrive at Heathrow airport to drag Reid and Hanff, kicking and screaming, to the US seems unlikely at this stage.
That, said Harris, leaves Hollywood's legal eagles forced to wrap up the case in the US and bring it to the High Court in London, in a bid to persuade a British judge that any ruling on the evidence made in the US should apply here too. The studios could also initiate legal proceedings here.
Harris said he welcomes such a move - there are issues here, such as the difference between hosting a link to a BitTorrent file, and hosting the file itself - that need to be thrashed out in the UK court, he said.
Harris also said he had set up trust funds to hold donations toward Reid and Hanff's legal costs, and to ensure that such funds are indeed put to that use, and not to any potential settlement the parties might enter into, as was alleged to be the case with LokiTorrent owner Edward Webber, who settled out of court with the MPAA last month. Donation details should appear shortly on both DVDR-core and bds-palace, said Harris. ®
Matthew Oppenheim has a history of involvement in P2P-related copyright litigation. Before joining Jenner & Block, he was Senior VP, Business and Legal Affairs for the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA). And Register readers with long memories will recall Oppenheim was once the spokesman for the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), an organisation of music, consumer electronics and IT companies formed in the early days of the MP3 era to develop a secure framework for digital downloads.
In 2000, the SDMI challenged anyone to crack its encryption system. Professor Edward Felten and a team from Princeton University's Computer Science faculty did so. Oppenheim was the fellow who publicly threatened Felten and co. that to discuss their findings at the Fourth International Information Hiding Workshop would leave him open to prosecution under the infamous DMCA.
In the end, Felten kow-towed, to avoid the legal entanglements. Litigation is costly, time-consuming and uncertain, regardless of the merits of the other side's case, he said at the time. "Ultimately, we... reached a collective decision not to expose ourselves, our employers and the conference organisers to litigation."
The following summer, he did indeed spill the SDMI beans, at Usenix 10. Oppenheim's implicitly threatened lawsuit did not come to pass.
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